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Liverpool title charge stalled by Everton: What went wrong?
Liverpool surrendered top spot to Manchester City
Last Updated: 04/03/19 1:23pm
Liverpool were held to a goalless draw by Everton in a pulsating Merseyside derby, allowing Manchester City to move into pole position in the title race. What went wrong for Jurgen Klopp's men at Goodison Park?
It may seem harsh to criticise a player who has scored 17 Premier League goals this season, but Mohamed Salah's recent dip in form is threatening to prove costly in Liverpool's title pursuit. It is now only one goal in six games for the Egyptian, who spurned several opportunities you would normally expect him to score at Goodison Park.
There was an early effort directed too close to Jordan Pickford after some fantastic footwork in Everton's box, but the bigger flashpoints came later. The first arrived in the 28th minute, when Salah was put through on goal by Fabinho after Everton had lost possession in midfield. It seemed the net was about to bulge, but instead his low effort was repelled by Pickford.
His next opportunity arrived shortly after half-time. Joel Matip's pass deflected off Kurt Zouma to send him clear in the box for a second time, but this time a poor touch allowed Michael Keane to get back and make a vital tackle.
"It's good defending but he gives him a chance," said Gary Neville in the Sky Sports commentary box. "It's very rare that Salah goes through a run like this," added Jamie Carragher. "There's no doubt that in the last few weeks his touch and his play outside the box hasn't been the quality that you would expect."
That rustiness was apparent right from the start of the game. There were just eight minutes on the clock when Salah sent a routine pass straight to Bernard and there were plenty more examples of sloppiness. By the final whistle, his passing accuracy was down at just 69 per cent.
Certainly, Salah's confidence appeared to suffer in the closing stages. When Liverpool sprung forward on the counter-attack in the 70th minute, Salah had targets to aim for from the right-hand side, but instead sent his cross directly into the arms of Pickford - drawing groans from the travelling fans and prompting criticism from the commentary box.
"He's got to do better," said Carragher. "He's got to do much more. There are opportunities for Liverpool on the counter-attack. Everton are getting excited, there's space in behind to counter, but your top man has got to show more quality than that. That's a simple cross."
No joy for central Mane
Salah was not the only Liverpool player who endured a difficult afternoon in front of goal.
Sadio Mane kept his place at the centre of their attack following his two-goal display against Watford on Wednesday, with Roberto Firmino only fit enough for the bench, but this time he struggled in the unfamiliar role.
Liverpool didn't carry their usual attacking threat, attempting just 10 shots over the course of the 90 minutes - their second-lowest total of the season - and that was partly down to Mane's inability to get involved in the game.
Despite playing as a central striker right up until his substitution six minutes from time, Mane did not manage a single shot on goal. Even more damningly, he only had one touch in Everton's box - a harmless header across goal from a Firmino delivery midway through the second half.
Mane's link-up play left a lot to be desired, too. The Senegal international only completed 11 out of 17 passes. He only found Salah with one and did not find Divock Origi, the third member of Liverpool's front three, once. "You cannot believe how poor Liverpool's front three have been in terms of passes like that," added Carragher.
Liverpool had issues in midfield as well as in attack, where a lack of control and composure proved costly. Everton set a frantic pace right from the start of the game, with the vociferous home crowd roaring them on, and Liverpool were unable to slow it all down and exert any kind of dominance.
The opening 15 minutes set the tone, with Fabinho, Salah and Andrew Robertson among those to send routine passes astray, and instead of growing into the game after the break, Liverpool became even more ragged. Their passing accuracy, which usually stands at around 85 per cent, dropped to 70 per cent in the second half.
"Liverpool haven't got a player in central midfield who can control the game and set the tone for how they perform," said Neville. "In an atmosphere like this, where it's red-hot, none of the Liverpool midfield have been good enough on the ball. You can talk about the forward players, but they've got to control the tempo better in matches like this."
The issues stemmed from central midfield, where Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum offered plenty of endeavour but little guile. Klopp eventually brought on Adam Lallana, but with just six minutes remaining at that point, the switch came too late to change the flow of the game.
"There's no doubt it's a workman-like midfield and at times it does a great job defensively - you only have to look at Liverpool's defensive record to see that - but you could have taken one of them out and give Everton problems with someone behind them," said Carragher. "It felt like one of those midfielders had to come off on the hour and go to a different set-up."